Three Christians in eastern Ethiopia are facing years in jail accused of terrorism and interfering with government work after they opposed the construction of a government building on church property.
Police arrested the three Christians in the city of Harar in eastern Ethiopia about 325 miles from the capital Addis Ababa after they prevented government workers from unloading construction materials inside the church compound on Wednesday, September 30. The church says the government’s plans to place the building inside the premises are part of a ploy to uproot the church from the area.
The congregation has been holding church services at this site for many years. With the financial support of a foreign donor, the church opened an elementary school for the local population inside the church compound. After a few years, the donor was no longer able to support the school and the church was forced to ask the government education bureau to cover salaries so that they could keep the school running.
The bureau agreed, but later decided to expand the school without consulting the church. They also asked the church to remove its name from the sign board at the school gate.
Muslims in Ethiopia consider the city of Harar the 4th holy city in Islam. For centuries, it was the center of Islamic education, literature and expansion in East Africa. Almost all officials in the regional government are Muslims. Christians in this area face frequent pressure and opposition for their faith.
“They want to confiscate church land. This is not the first time officials are doing such things. Last year they closed churches and confiscated chairs and the corrugated sheets. They also closed another church which was later [re]opened after prolonged appeals to the regional state and federal government. They also removed church sign boards from another church,” explains one of the leaders. “This is intended to uproot the church from the region.”
Though the church leaders have been released on bail, they now face a lengthy legal process. If the prosecutor decides to proceed with charges, these leaders could be sentenced to lengthy prison terms.
Ethiopia ranks 22 on Open Doors 2015 World Watch persecution index. For many years, the EOC has persecuted Christians who left their ranks to join (mostly) non-traditional Protestant churches, or Christians who joined the renewal movements within the EOC. However, along with members of these non-traditional Protestant churches, the EOC has become increasingly vulnerable to Muslim extremism in eastern, western and south-central regions of the country where Muslims constitute the majority.
Please pray for the church leaders as they face the uncertainty of the trial. Pray also for God’s peace for their families. Pray for wisdom for regional church leaders as they support these embattled church leaders.
Father, we lift before Your throne today these Ethiopian church leaders who are facing a legal trial. We pray first that the prosecutor will dismiss the charges and release them. Grant them wisdom throughout the legal process and strengthen their witness even as they face this uncertainty. And we pray boldly that You will protect the presence of this church in Harar. Where local authorities in this Muslim dominated area seek to overtake their buildings and property, we pray Your protection and overruling that they might continue to worship there and educate their children. Where they are powerless, be their sure defense. We pray especially for the unity of Your church, that together with the EOC, they might speak out the truth of the gospel with a united voice that You might receive the glory and honor that is due You and that many might turn to You in saving faith. In the Name of Jesus, who is gathering His Church from every tribe and nation, Amen.